Handling Peaks In Website Traffic Is Key To Retaining Users

Of all the many technological advances we’ve seen in recent years, it’s true to say that nothing has changed quite as radically as the way news and information is ‘consumed’. The digital revolution and the almost universal availability of access to information as it happens through smartphones and tablet devices has meant that the way we view media today is radically different from how we might have done, say, 10 years ago.

These days, instead of having to wait for a newspaper at the newsstand, or the 6 o’clock news on the TV, or radio news broadcast, web users are getting their news as it happens. Unlike so-called ‘conventional’ media, the Internet provides easy, real-time access to information any time, anywhere.

And even better, the development of ‘push news’ applications by online newspapers means that users are informed the second an important news story breaks. But what does that mean for websites? How can the sites that provide this content ensure that users are able to access the information they need, in the timely manner with which they’ve become accustomed?

After all, if news websites are let down by the technology that supports them at a time when a big story is breaking, it can prove catastrophic for the site. Indeed, history shows that managing peak traffic poorly can result in users going elsewhere for their content the next time a story breaks, which can, in turn, impact significantly on everything from user loyalty to advertising spend.

In 2010, a study conducted by Compuware showed that 78% of consumers switched to a competitor site when facing poor website performance during peak traffic times, and 88% of these said they were little inclined to return to the site in question. In this same study, 72% of web users said they had noticed that websites slowed down during peak traffic periods.

What this undoubtedly proves is that today’s websites need to be optimised more than ever so that they can handle peak traffic, satisfy customers and get significantly ahead of the competition. Although the challenge of being first to break live news is a relatively new one, it’s also one which should continue to encourage online media providers to revise their infrastructure and consider the performance of their websites as a key factor in service quality and web user retention.

Web platforms are, of course, extremely sensitive to event-driven overloading, but it’s worth remembering that there are several simple solutions, many of which can be quickly implemented, which can ensure that quality of service remains even at the busiest times:

  • Choose a service provider with a wealth of experience in high-traffic web platforms (caching, databases, RAM data services, etc.)
  • Avoid bottlenecks and saturation related to frequently searched data (by auditing or by managed optimizations), and therefore get the best out of your platform
  • Use a cache (often a Content Delivery Network) placed either locally or on the hosted platform for optimal platform function, including for normal dynamic pages
  • Choose the right equipment (proxy, frontend caches, high-performance servers, etc.) and take care to check that the data flow “pipes” are available
  • Optimise your network and systems platforms to be as frugal as possible in terms of resources. Once the platform is sound, monitoring and automatic upgrading of network capacity will avoid problems caused by high visit frequencies.

I would also recommend the rapid adoption of web frontends, alongside a virtualisation solution to make network management more flexible. The needs of each page must be checked early in the process to predict where slowdowns could occur. Extra resources can then be supplied in record time through a virtualisation solution to provide the customer with unbeatable flexibility.

Conversely, to handle predictable peaks in visit frequency of the sort that many online streaming sites will see during popular events such as the Olympic Games, all that is needed is the timely scheduling of an increase in capacity. If the structure is sound, it should have no difficulty very rapidly supporting an increase in capacity.

Very rapid access to information has quickly become one of the most important customer requirements. Efforts made to adapt to this new demand for multimedia access to news must ensure that peaks in visit frequency do not slow websites and push web users into the arms of the competition.

It is a fairly safe bet to assume that events at the Olympics will be followed on every device to hand (computers, smartphones and tablets) and that online news sites will have planned ahead for an increase in visit frequency in order to meet the needs of this new means of staying in touch with what’s going on. One thing’s for sure – as the importance of being able to access information as it happens grows, there’s never been a better time for websites to take precautions to ensure that their users stay loyal, engaged and, above all, satisfied.

Michael Ourabah is co-founder and CEO of BSO Network Solutions, an international solutions and infrastructure firm, specialising in Low Latency. An avid technology enthusiast, he graduated with a Masters in Computer Science in 2006, and worked for a number of IT services firms before co-founding BSO Network Solutions in 2004. Positioning the firm as proponents of a new generation of services including provision of network, hosting and managed services, the company has evolved today to become a leading provider of customised solutions and infrastructure services.